The Novel Coronavirus – What’s It All About?

Hello all!

Ben Keller here with my latest contribution to the blog. Normally we here try to write about how our past career experiences inform our writing of authentic crime fiction. But considering the recent concerns around the Novel Coronavirus, and my role as an international security consultant, I thought I would share some of the latest developments and some grounded, basic advice and analysis. Please note that I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. Please consult your own healthcare provider with any medical concerns.

So what’s the deal? Near the end of December 2019, the government in Wuhan in China announced a cluster of cases of pneumonia. The cluster seemed to be associated with the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, but no cause had yet been identified.

On January 8 of this year, a new virus was discovered, named the “2019-novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).” Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which can infect people. Some only cause the common cold, others can have more serious, even fatal, impact. Previous examples were the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The “novel” in this virus’ name simply means that it is a newly identified virus.

In this case, the majority of the confirmed cases are centered around Wuhan, but other cases have been exported to other countries. The initial transmission appears to have been from animal to human, but human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.
As of the time of this writing on January 27, here are the numbers:
Global total: 2797 cases
Mainland China: 2744 cases, 80 deaths
Beyond Mainland China: 53 cases

Other countries with confirmed cases: Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, United States, Vietnam

So who’s at risk? Human-to-human transmission has been confirmed, but it is not yet known how easily or sustainably it spreads. This is a rapidly developing situation, so the extent and nature of the risk is not yet fully understood. Most people infected so far have been in or through Wuhan. Some of the initial cases reported visiting seafood/animal markets, a potential source of exposure. As with all such illnesses, those with underlying medical conditions, compromised immune systems, and the elderly would have the greatest risk if exposed.

So far there is no specific treatment, and a vaccine could take months – or years – to develop. Patients have had a wide range of response, from mild illness to death. The best measure is prevention. A few basic precautions include:
• Avoid direct contact with animals, alive or dead. Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with droppings.
• Keep your distance from people who are obviously sick.
• Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and employ hand sanitizer periodically. Avoid touching your face.
• Ensure food is thoroughly cooked.
• Don’t travel if you’re sick.

Speaking of travel, international travelers should expect delays. Several world airports have implemented mandatory health screening, but these are primarily directed for flights arriving from China. Some parts of Asia have made wearing surgical masks mandatory.

What’s the outlook? The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advised on January 22 that further global spread of this virus is “likely,” with a high probability that the outbreak will spread to other countries in Asia (as these have the greatest volume of people traveling to and from Wuhan, China.) They assess it moderately likely that the virus will spread to countries in the European Union (EU), Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessed the immediate health risk in the United States as “low” as of January 22.

I hope you’ve found this overview helpful. As I frequently tell my consultees, I don’t want people to walk around trembling in fear, but to have an accurate understanding of the risks they take. Ensure reasonable precautions, then go live your life. I wish you all good health and safe travels!

-Ben Keller

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